Over the years, I have heard good and bad things about using turkey decoys. One hunter will tell you the moment a tom sees a decoy, he comes running in to meet his mate and ends up meeting his maker. Another hunter will tell you that the moment a tom sees a decoy; he turns around and runs as fast as his legs will carry him. I've experienced both situations over the years.
I was twelve years old the first time I picked up a shotgun and chased spring gobblers. At the time, there weren't many hunters in the woods. Most deer hunters thought turkey hunting was dumb and the only time you saw them with a turkey in hand was at the supermarket. Since there wasn'tt much hunting pressure, few birds ever saw decoys. On one occasion my dad and I set a hen decoy on top of a large stump. We were on the edge of a large open area, so incoming toms could see the decoy from a long distance away. When we started calling, a few bachelor gobblers saw the decoy on the stump and came running in like a few teenagers who were meeting their dates at Prom. I shot and missed that day, but I learned that in certain situations, a decoy is worth its weight in gold.
On other occasions, I called in a couple gobblers from what seemed like a mile away. As they approached my setup, I had visions of gobblers in the turkey fryer. After all, they were answering every call I made and covered a mile faster than Barry Sanders running away from a 300 pound lineman. I was sure this hunt was about to end. However, the moment the gobblers saw the decoy, they went on high alert. The next thing I heard was the worst sound you can hear in the spring woods: the putt. Three seconds after that, the gobblers were only a memory.
How can we know when to use a decoy and when to leave it in the truck? That is a tough question to answer. Below are a few decoy strategies that often work against the weariest of gobblers. I typically always bring decoys along. Whether I use them or not depends on the bird I am hunting.
Not long ago, most turkey hunters took one hen decoy into the woods with them. Most of the time, one decoy will do the trick and bringing multiple decoys into the woods can be cumbersome. So, even with a variety of decoy options, many hunters choose to hunt with one decoy. Although one decoy may be all you need to entice a tom within gun range, it's usually better to have more.
If you've ever waterfowl hunted, you will notice a common theme among hunters. Most hunters believe having a realistic spread requires more than a few decoys. The same rule applies in turkey hunting. Turkeys are birds that hang in flocks. Multiple decoys on display can increase your chances of bagging a bird. The hardest decision to make is which decoys to use in your flock. In recent years, I started using two hens and a standing jake decoy. When a dominant tom spots a jake with a hen, hopefully the tom will come running and stomp on the jake, providing you with an opportunity for a shot. This only happens some of the time. Even when a tom ignores a small flock, he usually simply ignores the decoys instead of running away like they sometimes do with one decoy. I am guessing that when a tom sees multiple birds, regardless if he comes to them or not, he figures he is safe because lots of birds are in the area.
The big rage for decoying turkeys is the half strut or full strut decoys that are on the market. Last year, a friend of mine was bowhunting for spring gobblers and was using a half strut decoy. He sat the decoy over the top of the hen like he was breeding the hen. When a real gobbler saw this, he came on a dead run and pounced on the half strut decoy. The tom was so furious that he didn't notice the three consecutive arrows that flew by his head. The bird got away, but the decoy did its job.
Full strut decoys seem to be more effective. Carry Lite decoys have a decoy called the Pretty Boy. This full strut decoy comes with a fake fan or you can use a real turkey tail fan to make it appear more realistic. The head of the decoy is bright white. In a recent conversation with the boys at Knight & Hale Game Calls, I was informed that there has never been a more effective decoy as the full strut Pretty Boy. Harold Knight often places the strutting decoy next to a hen decoy that is lying down. A strutting decoy seems to enrage real toms faster than a jake decoy that is simply standing. The strutting decoy shows dominance which drives real gobblers crazy.
Using a strutting decoy and a few hens is obviously more effective than using one decoy, but sometimes not using a decoy is effective. If I am hunting public land during the late season, I hardly ever use a decoy. By this time, most toms that have made it through the season have seen a decoy or two and aren't very crazy about waltzing up to them. I try to hunt with another hunter and place the hunter with the gun fifty yards in front of me. This way, if the tom hangs up and doesn't want to come any closer, chances are he is within gun range.
I'll hunt over decoys during the late season if I am hunting with a bow simply because they are a great tool to judge distance between you and the real gobbler. Sometimes a tom runs away when he sees the decoy sometimes he doesn't. I am willing to take my chances when I am hunting with a stick and string.
There are a few accessories on the market today that can add realism to your decoy setup. A few companies produce stakes that have a spring integrated into them. The slightest wind causes the decoy to move around. I've also seen bobble heads for decoys that move around in the breeze. The biggest problem with decoys is they are stationary. These items help give the decoy a more realistic look because the decoys are always moving.
Another item that might increase your chances is a new product called Fool-a-Bird put out by Vision Outdoors. It is a spray that you spray on your decoys to eliminate the ultraviolet glow given off by the material the decoys are made of. By eliminating the shine and glow, a decoy looks more real. I have talked with numerous professional waterfowl guides who are using the spray on duck decoys as well and are noticing a big difference.
Hunting with turkey decoys is sometimes a guessing game but by paying attention to the little details and creating a realistic looking flock, you can increase your chances of dragging a longbeard within gun range. Each hunting setup is different and you must learn to rely on your instincts when deciding if you should use decoys or not. I am not a betting man but if I was, I would bet on three decoys (one of which must be a strutting decoy) verses not using decoys every time.